The Indiana Supreme Court suspended a Vanderburgh County attorney today for at least three years for committing what the court describes as the most serious of ethical breaches.
The court came to its decision In the matter of: Douglas W. Patterson, No. 82S00-0402-DI-90, as a result of Douglas Patterson’s conversion of client funds, deceit in concealing his misconduct, and dishonesty with the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission.
Patterson was an associate at a law firm which maintained a trust account. In 1999, Patterson and attorney Maurice Doll left the firm and started a new one. The new law firm continued to use the old firm’s trust account until they established their own in May 2000.
Patterson continued to use the old trust account once the new one had been established. In August 2000, the new firm’s bookkeeper discovered Patterson had written five checks to himself or on his behalf from that account in July 2000.
Patterson denied knowledge of the checks and didn’t admit to writing the checks until Doll suggested they contact the police. Patterson claimed he only wrote checks out of that account in July 2000, but an audit later revealed he wrote checks to himself in April and May 2000.
Also, in January 2000, Patterson deposited his own funds into the trust account and then immediately wrote a check for the same amount to a church daycare center in order to reimburse the church for a tax debt it owed as a result of a mistake he made in handling its payroll.
Patterson eventually repaid the money he converted, most of which belonged to a single client.
When he appeared before the Disciplinary Commission, Patterson said he only wrote checks to himself in July 2000 and didn’t know the funds belonged to clients, but he did admit he mixed client and personal funds in the daycare transaction. He argued the Disciplinary Commission failed to meet its burden of proof with respect to all other charges and asked for a consideration of mitigating factors.
The Supreme Court found overwhelming evidence of Patterson’s conversion of funds in the trust account, that he lied when he said he didn’t know the money in the account was client funds, and evidence supports the hearing officer’s rejection of his credibility regarding this issue.
The high court concluded Patterson violated Professional Rules of Conduct 1.15(b), 8.4(b) and 8.4(c). Because the misconduct of converting client funds, deceit in concealing misconduct, and dishonesty with the Disciplinary Commission are among the most serious of ethical breaches, the court decided he should be suspended from the practice of law for at least three years beginning July 31.
After that time, he may be reinstated only if he pays the costs of this proceeding, fulfills his duties as a suspended attorney, and satisfies the requirements of Admission and Discipline Rule 23(4), including demonstrating genuine remorse.